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Start Of Dam Busting After Dam Busting

28/Apr/07, UCC Dam Busting and Litter Removal

Photographs are provided in the links offered toward the end of this page.

Today in the Angeles National Forest about fifty or sixty young volunteers from a variety of religious youth organizations (the UCC, "United Church of Christ" and many other groups from all around Southern California) gathered together with representatives of the Sierra Club, the San Gabriel Mountains Trailbuilders, and the U. S. Forest Service at the Rincon Fire Station in the San Gabriel River Ranger District.

The volunteer effort consisted of breaking open a large number of man-made rock dams across the San Gabriel River running along the bottom of East Fork Road, and picking up and hauling away some of the overwhelming amount of garbage and litter that lines the river and surrounding countryside.

It was turning out to be a hot morning while the Trailbuilders collected down below in the City of Azusa at eight in the morning (Ben, Tom, and myself.) The day's plans also included working on the Bear Creek Trail up around the 3200 foot mark just above Coldbrook Campground however we eventually decided to hold off on that work along that trail until we had some cooler weather. Since there's very little shade up there, working with picks, shovels, and such in the blazing Sun would have been rather difficult for anyone who wasn't used to it so we put the kibosh on that part of the plan.

The Trailbuilders arrived at Rincon, met with the Forest Service, and then waited for the other volunteers. A Sierra Club volunteer showed up and then we waited for the big yellow school bus to arrive, staying cool in the shade of the old oak trees, trading jokes and stories back and forth, drinking tea and cola with ice, enjoying the occasional cool breeze, comfortably singing the occasional Forest song -- while the Forest Service people got to struggle up the canyon emptying trash bins in the punishing heat.

When the bus arrived it was almost time for my lunch! Lois from the Forest Service offered a brief safety meeting, suggesting that the volunteers don't play with poison oak (she pointed out a stand of poison oak growing in the yard) and suggested that we try to avoid the Southern Pacific Rattle Snake that enjoy these mountains since some times the snakes will bite when they're played with.

Earlier in the day I had hoped that I could pull up a plant and hand it around, asking some of the young volunteers, "Do you know if this is poison oak?" to see how many people would handle it without thinking it through first. The Forest Service says that poison oak is no joke, but I find it amusing! -- but only because I'm almost entirely immune by now.

Lunch was sandwiches and chips. (I actually had two lunches, the one I brought and the sandwiches that were brought.) After lunch some of the more rambunctious volunteers paused to play basketball before everyone climbed back on to the bus to head over to the work site.

Dam Busting

This is the first time I'd ever been out along the East Fork Road past the old Camp Follows area. The canyon road is usually very crowded (which is why I avoid it) and today was no exception. We managed to park the bus in a "no parking" zone (ha!) and the Forest Service assembled everyone above the gate where plastic trash bags were handed out and the group was divided in to two work groups.

The East Fork Fire Station is a place that I had never visited before so I got a number of photographs of the place (which aren't posted here on this web site but which are available upon request by Emailing me.)

Ben and Tom joined the crew of other volunteers who started the day picking up litter. Since Ben had lost a 1972 quarter somewhere along the trail, he asked the volunteers if they would help him look for it while they picked up trash. Ben has been looking for that lost quarter for the past six years, to my recollection, and to his credit he has never given up hope of reclaiming it.

Since it was a hot day I decided I'd join the dam busting part of the effort first. We were supposed to trade off half-way through, trash collectors swapping with dam busters so that everybody got an opportunity to participate in both exercises. Since I was helping to keep an eye on some of the younger volunteers down in the water, I didn't help with the trash removal until near the very end when Lois (USFS) and I carried up a heavy blanket that had been used to build a rock dam -- must have weighed 200 pounds! (By the time we made it to the Forest Service pickup, the blanket had some how grown to at least 300 ponds -- at least I was exhausted by the time we made it.)

Dam busting consists of getting into the river and taking rocks off the top, flinging them to either bank or picking them up and duck-walking them to the bank. Eventually water starts to flow through the channel that's being built through the dam which carries out mud, branches, and rotting leaves which then gives clearer access to the next layer of rocks to be removed.

I had assumed that we would be removing the human-made dams entirely since such dams allow ponds of water to accumulate which then get warmer than normal which allows algae to grow -- which causes problems for fish and other animals whose environment depends upon cool, clear, flowing water, not warm standing water.

Dam Busting

Humans build these dams for a number of reasons, primary among them is their innate need to build and the innate desire to dam streams. The desire is hard-wired into the human brain. The ponds of water that collect behind them are used to wade and swim in and despite the lack of any fish larger than an inch or so, people fish in such ponds.

With rock dams, the Santa Ana Sucker (that's a fish!) can't have an easy time of swimming down stream from the river and its various side creeks down to the basins, restaurants, bowling alleys, and other places where such fish like to go.

So why not bust up the entire dam rather than open one or two channels in them like Lois asked us to do? It seems that the Santa Ana Sucker was fairly recently placed on the Endangered Species List and as such some of the warmer standing water ponds that have resulted from years of human dam building have to be left in place. We build channels through them so that fish can migrate, but we must leave deeper, cooler pools for the small fish to live in as well.

If I had a guess, the more difficult effort wasn't the hauling of heavy rocks from the cool of the river but the hauling of the litter from the heat of the rocky river bed. In cool or wet weather I'll volunteer to pick up trash, but in the heat of the day I'd rather swing a pick-mattox and use a shovel. Down in the river I could dunk my old leather cowboy hat into the river, fill it up, and then dump the whole thing back on top to quickly cool off. In the rocky riverbed on either side of the river, it looked like hot, sweaty work.

Toward the end of the day the trash bags were collected up and hauled to Mike's Forest Service pickup truck. I walked along the banks of the river for a bit trying to make sure that everyone in the group who were supposed to leave wasn't being left behind -- and I found a frog hunter in the group lagging behind still searching (I asked him if he didn't get enough lunch. The kid maybe didn't see how I was trying to make a joke since I've heard that Crunchy Frog is quite delicious. Come on! You know: Crunchy Frog? Monty Python's Flying Circus? I hate Spam? Anyway... Where was I? Oh, yeah... Dam busting.)

Finished for the day

Back up at the parking lot, the youth organization volunteers returned to their bus, the Trailbuilders returned to their pickup trucks, the Sierra Clubber returned to her nest, and both Mike and Wes of the U. S. Forest Service was left alone to pick through the mountain of trash that had been collected, sorting through the trash for recyclables -- maybe the more difficult and disgusting job of the day.

Did I mention how enjoyable I found the day to be? Any opportunity to get out of the city and in to the mountains is a good day, and any excuse to play in the river and exercise is a big plus. But having so many young kids come out to do something of immense benefit for our National Forests and the water-borne creatures who live there is beyond description. I greatly appreciate their efforts and I hope that some will harbor as great and as deep a respect for Mother Nature and all her creatures as much as I do.

A good time was had by all, even those who accidentally fell over backwards (actually they were pushed!) into the cold river. Ha!

* The bus comes with most of today's volunteers
* Gathering before the safety meeting
* A wider look at the gathering prior to the morning's safety meeting
* Lois (USFS) give the safety meeting
* A cution about handleing poison oak
* And a caution about putting one's hands in among rattle snakes
* The other side of the safety meeting
* Lunch is being set out on a card table
* And lunch is served! We have a nice shaded table area also
* Some of us pause for a bit of basketball while we wait
* A bridge on the way along East Fork Road to the work site
* We get to the East Fork Fire Station. Note how crowded the area is
* I catch Lois in her pickup truck. "Behave!" I always do
* At the work site, getting organized a bit more
* A view along the trail to the canyon's floor
* A gaggle of dam-busting volunteers spread out along the river
* A first look at one of the dams that needs to be broken up
* This rock dam is considered busted enough to go to the next dam
* Lifting boulders out of the streams
* And another photograph of a dam that's been freshly opened / busted
* The goal is to open up rock dams wide enough for fish to travel
* Another dam gets broken up. I take before and after photographs
* The difficult, hot, sweaty work of litter removal also takes place
* Shifting rocks, don't mind the camera guy who isn't working hard
* There are some nice trees to rest under along the river
* Each dam takes anywhere from five minutes to maybe fifteen minutes
* Some dams start with fallen trees which are harder work to remove
* A channel on the left is now flowing; I ask for another channel on the right
* Interlocked down trees make dam removal even more difficult
* Some heave a pinned log while others watch to see if it will move
* This particular log jam isn't coming apart easilly
* A thumbs-up for the effort so far
* Pausing to rest while draging out two bags of garbage
* Getting to be toward the end of the day's volunteer efforts
* Tom and other volunteers gathering toward the end of the day
* Volunteers returning.
* More volunteers. I'll try to get as many volunteers on camera as possible
* Hey, everyone, we're packing up! Time to call it a day
* More volunteers returning from the river
* A look South at some of what was accomplished today
* A look North and a glimpse at people who utilize this area for recreation
* Another nice tree along the river to rest under in the shade
* The bus and the rally point off in the distance
* Hunting for frogs in the San Gabriel River
* Almost everyone else has made it to the Forest Service pickup truck
* Mike (USFS) gets on the radio, keeps track of what's happening in the forest
* Some volunteers after the day's work. Nobody seems to be too exhausted
* Kid getting ready to hit Ben in the back with a rock! Look out, Ben!
* Some more volunteers
* And some more volunteers. We're almost done for the day
* Milling around waiting to hike back up to the parking lot
* One final picture and my camera is full: Some of the trash that was collected

Site map is at: Crystal Lake site map
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